1. Guard/tackle: Doesn't matter which because right tackle Willie Colon could switch to guard if a good tackle is acquired. Tackle starters are a little stronger with Marcus Gilbert and Colon, but there's little depth there. Starting guards, both restricted free agents, are not strong and there also is little depth at the position.
2. Nose tackle: Casey Hampton, 34, tore his ACL in the playoff game and had surgery. They say they want him back even though his salary is nearly $5 million. Defensive end Ziggy Hood could slide here and Cameron Heyward could start at end but that's not optimal.
3. Inside linebacker: James Farrior was the heart of the defense and he's gone. They need to find the next one but Larry Foote can plug that hole for awhile and they love former No. 1 pick Lawrence Timmons. No depth, so ideally they draft one and in a year he starts.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--QB Charlie Batch's status, with Byron Leftwich likely to return as No. 2, will be either at No. 3 at minimum wage or they'll find a younger No. 3. General manager Kevin Colbert said they want him back.
--QB Dennis Dixon will leave, and general manager Kevin Colbert has acknowledged as much. Dixon would like to go somewhere he can at least be a No. 2.
--OL Trai Essex is a versatile player who came in as a tackle, and learned to play guard and center, so he has been a valuable backup for them. Not considered a starter though. They will let him test free agency and try to re-sign later if someone else does not.
--QB Byron Leftwich will re-sign as No. 2. He was supposed to be No. 2 in each of the past two seasons but injuries derailed both of them. He wants to come back and they want him back.
--CB Anthony Madison is purely a special teams player and they no longer have the cap room to have him as a veteran special teams player.
--RB Mewelde Moore has done some good things in Pittsburgh, filled in nicely in spots as a versatile back. However, they have young backs they prefer to use in 2012.
--OT Max Starks suffered an ACL injury in the final game of the season that should kill his chances in free agency. He may be brought back later if the Steelers have a need at tackle and he does not go elsewhere, but his career also could be over.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--OG Ramon Foster (tendered at $1.26M with no compensation) ended last season as their starting right guard and will remain that unless they draft someone.
--FB David Johnson (tendered at $1.26M with seventh-round pick as compensation) was used by former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians as a fullback. He is their No. 2 tight end.
--OG Doug Legursky (tendered at $1.26M with no compensation) is their starting left guard and like Ramon Foster, was undrafted.
--CB Keenan Lewis (tendered at $1.26M with third-round pick as compensation) needed three years to rise to the No. 3 spot. With two 2011 rookies ready to move up, they were willing to tender him at the lower level to receive a third-round pick in return if another team wants him.
--S Ryan Mundy (tendered at $1.26M with sixth-round pick as compensation) is one of only two backup safeties who has not made his mark, even when given the chance to start.
--WR Mike Wallace (tendered at $2.742M with first-round pick as compensation) is their most important concern in free agency, one of the fastest receivers in the league, and a Pro Bowler. They gave him the high tender and will now hold their breath.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--P Jeremy Kapinos did well enough for them last season that he likely will be their punter in 2012 as well.
NT Steve McLendon is their only real backup nose tackle and with Casey Hampton coming off ACL surgery in January, he is important to them. Did well when given the chance.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.
--WR Arnaz Battle (released).
--LB James Farrior (released).
--CB William Gay: UFA Cardinals; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--NT Chris Hoke (UFA; retired).
--OG Chris Kemoeatu (released).
--CB Bryant McFadden (released).
--OT Jamon Meredith: Not tendered as RFA/Buccaneers; terms unknown.
--DE Aaron Smith: (released/failed physical).
--WR Hines Ward (released; subsequently retired).
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